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Device Simplifies Treatment for Child Ear Disorder

Clikx developer team

Developers of the Clikx device to treat otitis media with effusion, led by Lynne Lim, front left, and Tan Kok Kiong. (National University of Singapore)

24 May 2017. An engineering and medical team in Singapore created a new device that it says simplifies and speeds surgery for a leading cause of hearing loss in children. The device, called the Clikx, is a product of labs at National University of Singapore designed to treat otitis media with effusion, a condition also known as “glue ear” that affects as many as 709 million people, mainly children, worldwide.

Otitis media with effusion occurs when fluid accumulates in the middle ear of children, often between 6 months and 3 years old, as a result of cold, sore throat, or upper respiratory infections. The condition usually clears up by itself in 4 to 6 weeks, but if it persists can cause infection or hearing loss. Otitis media with effusion is caused by a malfunctioning eustachian tube that connects the middle ear to the throat and equalizes air pressure in the middle ear and outside.

Treatments for otitis media with effusion, or OME, are limited to antibiotics to treat infections or, in cases where the condition extends beyond 2 to 3 months, a surgical procedure to prevent long-term hearing loss or speech disorders. The procedure, called a myringotomy, inserts a tube called a grommet in a hole in the eardrum to drain the fluid, relieve the pressure, and prevent fluid from accumulating, and allow hearing to be restored.

This procedure requires full-scale surgery an an operating room with a general anesthetic. The Clikx device, say its developers, makes it possible to insert the grommet with a quick process, in an out-patient facility and a local anesthetic. The device was developed in the lab of electrical engineering professor Tan Kok Kiong, working with ear-nose-and-throat specialist and adjunct medical professor Lynne Lim.

Clikx is a handheld device with a pistol-like grip that inserts the grommet in a child’s ear about 1 second. The device uses a sensor-controlled automated process and a simple eye-loupe scope to place the tube. In addition, say the developers, Clikx uses current commercially available grommets.

As Tan explains in a university statement, “Preoperative preparation and postoperative recovery time for patients are significantly reduced. At the same time, risks of general anesthesia are avoided. We expect costs, manpower and resources to be lowered substantially, and this in turn, would be welcomed by patients, health care institutions, and insurers.”

The researchers expect Clikx will be used worldwide. “In many underdeveloped areas where proper health care infrastructure and general anesthesia are not always available, many patients with OME do not have access to treatment in a timely manner, ” Lim notes. “Clikx can make a significant impact by making grommet placement surgeries more accessible to these patients most in need, and it simplifies the procedure for doctors and patients.”

The team expects clinical trials of Clikx to begin in Singapore in 2018, and is seeking partners to commercialize the device.

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